ISU research team finds links between virus, tremors in infant piglets

Local News

AMES – Paulo Arruda has been busy working toward his doctorate at Iowa State University.

During the last two years, he’s spent a lot of time trying to help pig farmers solve a 100 year old problem.

“We’re trying to save those pigs that cannot make it in the first few days of life,” said Arruda, a research pathologist at Iowa State University.

The Brazilian has been part of a team that’s studying infant pigs, who suffer from involuntary shaking and sometimes won’t live longer than a couple of days because of the tremors. 

After consulting with a pharmaceutical company doing similar research, they identified what’s known as a pestivirus through DNA sequencing. As part of their research, they injected the virus into the uterus of pregnant sows, and then have a control group to compare it to.

“The virus is very common with pigs that are shaking, and not common in control pigs,” said Arruda. “So, we have one more piece of evidence that the virus might be linked to the tremor, to the clinical signs being observed.”

Because of their research, the team has determined the virus isn’t just associated with tremors, but actually causes them.

There is no evidence currently hat the virus can infect other animals.

“So, we kind of hit the time where the brain developed,” said Arruda. “So, we believe that the virus, through a mechanism that we do not understand yet could produce tremors.”

And with their research, they’re hoping their next step will be an even bigger breakthrough. 

“Now the major goal is to try to draw up a vaccine, so we can help those pigs out,” said Arruda.

Arruda says the pestivirus isn’t usually epidemic across large populations, but it can strike often within individual farms. That’s one of the big reasons he says they’re trying to slow its spread.

Team members say the virus does not make pork unsafe for human consumption, and it cannot spread to people from the pigs.

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